Rajinikanth, the big-time superstar whose near-mythological presence in the cinematic public consciousness has some similarities, will be honored with the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the government’s highest honor for Indian cinema.
The announcement made by Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javadekar on Thursday may have raised some eyebrows amid the hot election season. But few would dispute Rajni’s claim for the country’s most coveted honor for a cinema artist, which would be conferred on her on 3 May.
And sure enough, the congratulatory message was quickly poured out, even from political rivals. DMK chief and chief ministerial candidate MK Stalin said it was a delayed honor for the superstar – a “unique artist” and a “dear friend”. Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan said that Rajni was the most suitable artist to receive the award. He tweeted that Rajni “proved that he can win over fans by appearing on screen” – many interpreted the actors as subtle jibes, again flirting with politics.
– Rajinikanth (@rajinikanth) 1 April 2021
Rajni thanked them all. His friend, bus driver Raj Bahadur (who dedicated the award to him), encouraged him to go to Chennai, then Madras, for acting. His brother Satyanarayana Rao Gaikwad made “many sacrifices” to fulfill his dreams amidst the difficulties he faced in early life. His mentor, the late Tamil filmmaker K. Balachander, who gave him the “first break”, catalyzing his transition from Shivaji Rao Gaikwad to ‘Rajinikanth’. His “friend”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Producers, directors, technicians, distributors, theater owners and media. And, in particular, “Tamil people have helped me all over the world and my fans”.
Rajinikanth’s path to the top of Indian cinema was anything but distinctive. After his early life as a bus conductor in Karnataka, he joined films for 25 years. His first major commercial hit coincided with his 25th outing. On screen, he performed in black and white, color, 3D and motion capture. After closing it, he never hid his bald pate and graying beard.
According to R Kannan, author of MGR: A Life, Rajinikanth was an actor who defined the grammar of charisma.
He said that Rajni was on par with MG Ramachandran in his acting career. But the difference lies in the former’s reluctance to deliberately create an image.